Relatives frustrated by lack of news ransack Red Sea ferry firm's offices

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The Independent Online

Tensions ignited again when a second group of relatives were prevented by police from storming a hospital that is treating survivors in the port town of Hurghada.

The violence came because relatives are furious at what they say is a lack of information about the fate of more than 900 passengers still missing after the ferry sank on Friday.

The crowd broke into the offices of the ship's owner, the Al-Salaam Maritime Company. They hurled furniture, office equipment and air conditioners from the first-floor offices, before seizing a photograph of a company ship and burning it. "None of the officials has come to answer our questions," said Ahmed Sherif who was waiting for news of his brother. "Any other country around the world there is an operations centre, but here there is nothing," another man said.

The crowd of about 1,000 from the country's impoverished south has become increasingly overwrought as the emotional strain of waiting and a lack of proper facilities has taken its toll.

Adding to their anxiety is the brutal way Egyptian officials have gone about identifying the dead - by putting on public display photographs of bodies, which have become disfigured to the point they are unrecognisable after up to 72 hours in the sea. Rescuers yesterday found a small number of survivors, bringing the total to just on 400. Almost 250 dead have been pulled from the sea.

The ferry, carrying 1,415 passengers and crew sank during its crossing from the Saudi port of Duba to the Egyptian port of Safaga. Preliminary investigations blame a fire which is believed to have started in a lorry in the ship's cargo hold.

The Al Salaam Maritime Company announced compensation of 150,000 Egyptian pounds (£15,000) to each of the families of the dead. By Egyptian standards it is a massive sum, but to claim it - as well as government compensation - relatives need a death certificate.